The mere suggestion that the world does not contain three dimensions is likely to make most people scoff. Of course the world has three dimensions, it just takes a good look around to see! And seeing is believing, right?
But holograms, too, appear as if they are three dimensional even though they only exist in two dimensions. So if it's possible that our universe is itself just a hologram, then the three-dimensional world we think we see could be an illusion.
Although such a theory might sound like the late-night ramblings of an inebriated philosophy major, new research out of the Vienna University of Technology suggests it might actually be true. Scientists there have devised a model which demonstrates that our entire universe could be described using one fewer dimension than it seems to require, and that what we perceive as three dimensional may just be the image of two-dimensional processes on a huge cosmic horizon, reports Science Daily.
Mind blown yet? The idea that the universe can be mathematically described using only two dimensions has actually been studied extensively before. This so-called "holographic principle" has even been shown to work under a variety of theoretical conditions. It just hadn't been shown to apply under conditions that resemble our universe specifically — that is, until now.
The Vienna team made their breakthrough by showing how certain quantum effects — for instance, quantum entanglement — could exist in a "flat" space just as they have been shown to exist in other theoretical, exotic or "warped" spaces. The reason this is important is because our universe just happens to be such a flat space. (The reason our universe is considered "flat" is that it expands out infinitely; spacetime does not curve back in on itself.)
"This calculation affirms our assumption that the holographic principle can also be realized in flat spaces. It is evidence for the validity of this correspondence in our universe," explained Max Riegler, one of the researchers at Vienna.
In other words, the team has essentially proven that it is at least plausible that our universe really is just a hologram. Of course, showing that such a theory is mathematically plausible is not the same thing as proving the theory to be true, but the discovery does open minds to the possibility that we're living in a holographic universe — and that's downright astonishing.
Whether you find comfort or horror in that idea is perhaps up to you. Either way, it will still be the same universe you've been living in all along.
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